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How to host a great restaurant media event

In my nearly two decade career of writing about restaurants I’ve attended hundred upon hundred of restaurant openings, previews, invites, one on ones with chefs etc. It’s a true privilege and a pleasure – I’m incredibly humbled to have been able to pick the brains of so many talented chefs. Mind you, some press events really stand out over those years. For better and worse.

Here are some items you should consider when holding a press or media event for your restaurant. Along with that, my personal preferences for what makes a stand out media restaurant invite and experience.

Pick a smart date

Check the calendar, what else is on. Is it the Super Bowl or Halloween? The likelihood is we’re going to decline your gracious invite if we have pressing family matters. Yes I count the Super Bowl as a pressing family matter. Also try to keep abreast of your local food scene, check your event doesn’t overlap with a big foodie gathering, or other restaurant event. Don’t make writers pick and choose between their favorite child. If in doubt reach out to someone like me, we usually know the complete lay of the land with what’s coming up locally.

The invite

Keep it short, keep it simple. Supply all the pertinent details as quickly and concisely as you can. Don’t – as one restaurant once did – send me a box filled with feathers, the invite inside that. You can imagine how my lounge looked after opening that box…

Anyway a few items you *must* include on a restaurant preview invite:

  • Time and date – this should be obvious but you’d be surprised by how often this is forgotten
  • Schedule – is this an event with set proceedings or can invitees drop by anytime
  • Guests – can I bring a plus one, a plus two, none? This item is missed *all* the time
  • Menu – if the menu is a set affair, let us know in advance just in case of dietary concerns
  • Extra costs – if a glass of wine is extra, just let me know ahead of time, it’s all cool

Speaking for myself personally, I prefer restaurant media invites to come by plain email. No fancy linked website with graphics. Just a plain old email with the info above in there. Let me read it and move on with my day. I can’t stand postal invites in the mail. It’s not as unique or stand-out cool as you think. It’s just slow, cumbersome, and wasted paper.

Showcasing your menu

There are a few schools of thought here, I’ve seen them all. Let your guests order what they like off the menu, serve everyone a set menu dish by dish, or just cook the whole menu A-Z . I’ll be honest the latter is absolutely the best. I’m forced out of my ordering comfort zone, and get to see the entirety, depth and breadth of the menu.

Staged food

In recent years with the rise of social media, I’ve seen many a restaurant create a staged food area. Cooked and plated dishes from the menu, showcased in a well lit (preferably by natural night) area. This allows guests to take great pictures of your food, rather than hustle and trade for plates and space on their own table. This might not be appropriate for your menu/event, but if it is, I can’t recommend it enough. Some of my best food photography comes from thoughtfully staged food. And on the Internet, great food pictures sell. Help me, help you.

Ditch the paper

I still find that people thrust printed media kits in my direction at all manner of events. I’ll be honest, I can count on one hand in fifteen years how often Ive referred to one. If I need details I’ll ask. I’ll check your website, ask your PR team questions, look up items on social media. Your press kit is a waste of trees that probably hits the recycle can the moment I got home.

Keep owner blabbering to a minimum

I get it, you have the grandest vision that any grand person ever had. Your restaurant is your baby, your dream, your empire. But while you’re talking, the food is getting cold, and we’re getting bored. Let people eat their food and follow up with queries between courses. I know you have a narrative you want to tell, but don’t send folks to sleep with it.

If you must tell a story with intricate details, leave it to the start/end or a natural pause between dishes at the mid point.

Though we do want to hear from the chef

Most chefs are like rare mythic creatures, the yeti or chupacabra of the kitchen. In my experience they rarely get up in front of a bunch of journalists and want to speak about their food. There’s the odd exception sure, but on the whole, they want to be back in the kitchen stat. If you can encourage your kitchen team to talk before or after your event, and have them field Q&A’s, that’s fabulous.

Quid pro quo

Don’t ever say your invite is contingent on a review, a writeup or a social media post. Don’t be that business. While influencers might fall over themselves for a free meal, and free content – journalists will be instantly turned off. Frankly, it’s rare I even respond to these types of request, I just hit delete and move on.

If you need to demand a guaranteed write up in exchange for an invite, my guess is that your restaurant and food doesn’t stand up on its own merits.

Extra touches

To go gifts – who doesn’t like a present. Send me home with a gift bag, and I get goofy. I know I know. This can be simple stuff. A sample of your product or something the chef made up special. A gift card for 20% off the next visit. The extra touches really do leave a lasting impression.

Research your writers – know their publications, their sensibilities and their general likes. Sure, I know when I’m being charmed, but that’s absolutely better than, “oh I’ll have to check out your site one day”.

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